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The Social General Strike - Page 12
which followed 'Spain and the World' after Franco's fascist victory in 1939.
During the war, as a member of the Anarchist Federation of Britain
(AFB), he wrote regularly for 'War Commentary for Anarchism' and pro-
duced his first two pamphlets, 'Trade Unionism or Syndicalism' and 'The
British General Strike', both of which had wide sales. He remained a mem-
Why 1926 Failed
ber of the editorial board until near the end of the war, when the AH, of which
he stayed an active member, parted company with Freedom Press in
unhappy circumstances, but on points of principle.
With others, he helped launch 'Direct Action' in 1945, as the AFB's new
The repeal of the 1927 Trades Disputes Act by the Labour Parliament
voice and continued his close association with it for well over 20 years.
makes little difference to the prospect of a General Strike. The Labour lead-
Saddened by the failure of an attempt to form an International of Anarchist
ers believe that, for the present at least, they can better suppress strikes by
Federations in the late 1940s, he later supported the AFB's decision to
their control of the trade unions than by Parliament. On the other hand,
change its name to Syndicalist Workers' Federation (SWF) and affiliate to
when the workers are willing to engage the class enemy in a General Strike
the International Working Men's Association, of which the CNT was the
they will not consult Acts of Parliament to do so. During the 1926 General
strongest member, although then underground in Spain. The SWF main-
Strike the strikers did not care two hoots whether the strike was legal or ille-
tained friendly contacts with the IWW in the States and Tom visited them
when he and Lily crossed the Atlantic to see their daughters, who had both
Why did the British General Strike of 1926 fail? Not because the work-
married GIs in London and later emigrated. He also went to see the veter-
ers failed to strike. The number of blacklegs was insignificant. The attempt
an anarcho-syndicalist, Rudolf Rocker, in a libertarian colony near New
of the middle-class to scab on the strikers was a poor effort and was rapid-
York. Tom and Lily returned to London after a year and he resumed his
ly breaking down the machines used. About one per cent of normal train
SWF activity. He and Lily, who was then in poor health, returned to Tyneside
services were running, but only nine days of that caused chaos on the rail-
in the late 1960s and his continued activity there included several lively con-
ways for months afterwards. The breakdown was greater than that caused
tributions, on libertarian subjects, on local radio.
by the air raids on London in 1940-41 and took much longer to repair. The
Tom Brown's activity and writings influenced and inspired many people.
University students and other middle class scabs could not replace the
A latter-day Tom Mann, he sowed the seeds of a rebirth for Syndicalism in
transport workers and certainly did not intend to replace the miners.
Nor did the strike fail because of a fall in the morale of the workers. The
aggregate of strikers was much greater on the last day of the strike than on
the first and the fighting spirit was much tougher.
! The Collapse of Leadership
The strike failed only because it was called off by the trade union lead-
ers and the workers had not learned to distrust those leaders sufficiently.
Worse still, the most important divisions of strikers were organised in trade
unions and they were used to obeying instructions from the officials of those
unions. The leadership betrayed the strike.
But do not let us fall into the error of believing that the leaders called off
the strike because of their own cowardice. The Labour leaders' economic
interests are those of capitalism and in betraying the strike they were
The Social General Strike - Page 2 Tom Brown - Page 11
defending their economic interest. The trade union leaders never believed
in the strike and only led it in order to prevent it being controlled by the work-
ers; they led it in order to ensure its failure. Scores of quotations from the
leaders of the Trades Union Congress could be produced to prove this. We
have room for but one.
'No General Strike was ever planned or seriously planned as an act of
Trade Union policy. I told my own union in April, that such a strike would
be a national disaster.... We were against the stoppage, not in favour of
! About Tom Brown !
it.' (Memoirs, J. R. Clynes.) Tom Brown, whose writings did much to revive interest in Syndicalism
and Workers' Control, was that rare phenomenon in the British libertarian
True, the workers were rapidly developing an alternative to the leader movement, a theoretician whose ideas had been tested and developed by
principle. The Councils of Action were improvised bodies born of local ini- his own experience in the hard school or working-class struggle.
tiative. Even more significant was the spontaneous and widespread cre- An able and persuasive public speaker, whether at Speakers' Corner in
ation of mass picket lines and their unqualified success. Hyde Park, at indoor meetings, or in the more intimate role of lecturer, he
But in spite of such a hopeful development the strikers still had the habit had the happy knack of relating what he said to the everyday experience of
of obedience to leaders. It was not, of course, the leaders alone who were his audience. The same quality illuminated his writings, which mirrored the
defending their capitalist interest inside the Labour movement. The trade life and times or this lifelong revolutionary and loyal comrade.
unions were not only, through their vast invested funds, shareholders in cap- Born and bred within sight and sound of the Tyneside shipyards, Tom
italism - they were part of the social order; as much capitalist institutions as served his engineering apprenticeship there and was quickly drawn into mil-
the workhouse or the Houses of Parliament. itant industrial activity. Much of his working life was spent as an active shop
To wage a successful General Strike the workers must reject, not only steward and factory floor activist.
certain leaders, but the leader principle, using to the full their own initiative. Like many others he was fired with enthusiasm by the Russian
They must organise, not in trade unions, but in Syndicalist or revolutionary Revolution, was an early member of the Communist Party and, for a time,
industrial unions (in Britain the two terms mean the same), and they must became its industrial organiser for the North East. But the double dealing of
change their strategy from that of the General Walk Out Strike to that of the the CP and the growing repression in Bolshevik Russia quickly brought dis-
General Stay In Strike. illusion and he left the party, though never his natural role as a shop floor
! Stay In Striker Moving south during the Depression, he worked in the motor industry of
the West Midlands and, probably around this time, was attracted by
Anarchist and Syndicalist ideas. In the mid-thirties he and his wife, Lily,
Consider what happens in an orthodox strike, general or particular. The
found their way further south to London with their daughters, Ruth and
strikers, who had the means of production in their hands one day, on the
next, hand them over to their class enemies in a nice tidy working condition
The Spanish Revolution of 1936, with its takeover of industry and agri-
and go home. The railmen and bus and lorry drivers hand over the vital
culture by the Syndicalist unions of the CNT in anti-fascist territory, espe-
means of transport, without which modern capitalism and the State cannot
cially Catalonia, reinforced and developed Tom's own ideas and he became
exist. The electrical engineers hand over the power stations, the gas work-
a member of the grouping around the paper, 'Spain and the World', which
ers, the gas producers. Dockers, warehousemen and food factory workers
was dedicated to supporting the Spanish workers. He spoke at meetings
surrender millions of tons of precious flour, bacon, meat, butter, rice and
supporting their struggle, several times sharing the platform with Emma
fruit. Engineers vacate arsenals that might be used to arm Fascists. Then
Goldman. His Syndicalist writings appeared for the first time in 'Revolt',
The Social General Strike - Page 10 Tom Brown - Page 3
drink it. No one worries about some one drinking more than his share of they go home to sit by grates that gradually become fireless or at tables with
water. Certainly no one hoards pails of water in miserly style, for water a lessening loaf or go out onto the streets to be battened upon their defence-
being freely to hand, appeals not to the miser or glutton. If bread were as less heads.
plentiful as water, who would eat more than his share?
How much better to stay at work and do your striking there.
! Power to the Workers Naturally, to many workers this will seem a strange idea, they are used
to striking by leaving the job, not by staying on it, least of all to continuing at
'But you would still have criminals and hooligans.' Yes, we would still be work and striking at the same time. But stay awhile, all fruitful ideas must
pestered for a few years by these dregs of capitalist society, and the work- have sounded startling at first hearing, as startling as the first steam loco-
ers would know how to protect their new won society from these miserable motive to a stage coachman.
misfits and from counter-revolutionists and Fascists. Look at it this way. We all depend for our very living upon the machines
The workers' Syndicates would establish Workers' Militias as did the and those who tend them, the employer even more than we. Not only does
Spanish workers in 1936, workers' patrols and whatever other means of he depend upon servants to clean his home and cook his meals, to wash
workers' defence were necessary. If needful, the Syndicates would arm him and dress him and to do everything but chew his food for him, he also
their militias. But that would not be state power-politics, for the state is the depends, far more than we ever shall upon complicated mechanisms, tele-
special force of public repression used by the ruling class, old or new, phones, electric fires, automobiles and so on. There he is vulnerable. Even
against its subjects, the people. The armed Syndicates would be a general more vulnerable is his industrial and commercial system and his political
force - a people in arms. After a while it would be unnecessary for workers institutions.
to carry arms and these would gradually be laid away, as people during the And behind the machine is a man; he has not yet achieved his dream of
late war laid aside their gas masks when they discovered that no gas attack Rossum's Universal Robots. That man is the striker - all things are in his
was likely. Full freedom would be born and develop naturally and in its own hands. Industry is in the workers' hands. They control the trains, the ships
time. and the buses. They run the telephone exchanges and the power stations.
How different when the Revolution gives birth to a new state as in France They warehouse and prepare the food, clothing, shoes and myriad com-
in 1789 and Russia in 1917. In Russia, for example, power came into the modities which make life possible.
hands of the Bolshevik Party, who used it to disarm the workers and build a In the Social General Strike the workers decide to cut off these supplies
regular army, police force, secret political police and use spies, gaolers and from the employing class and to supply them in full - for the first time in his-
judges to maintain their political power. In a political revolution power is in tory - to the working class: Instead of starving, we eat as we have never
the hands of a ruling party. In a social revolution power is in the hands of feasted before, instead of being clubbed, shot and imprisoned we retain the
the workers. If the workers allow themselves to be disarmed by a new gov- means of defending our lives.
ernment then counter-revolution succeeds. The employing class will be without petrol, heat, electricity, communica-
The Syndicalist Social General Strike then aims at the conquest of the tion or servant. Such a General Strike has been often called The General
means of production by the workers. We are now poor and enslaved not lockout of the Capitalist Class. Perhaps that is a more appropriate term.
because of lack of reforms made by politicians, but because the employing To accomplish such an end, however, the workers must shed the old,
class own and control the means of production, without access to which we outworn methods of trade unionism and adopt those of the Syndicalists and
cannot live. So long as others control the means whereby we live so long Revolutionary Industrial Unionists. Instead of organising in the branch room
shall we be slaves. Only by taking and holding the means of production can of the local Labour Club or the tap room of the 'Red Lion' we must organise
the workers he free. on the job; the miners in the pits, the engineers in the factories, the seamen
on the ships. Only by organising on the job are we preparing to take over
industry. By organising in the trade union local branch we are fitting our-
The Social General Strike - Page 4 Tom Brown - Page 9
selves for nothing greater than taking over the local dart team. he spots a worker of outstanding ability who would make a much better
Let us now consider in greater detail the mode of organisation advocat- foreman than he, does he promote that worker? Hardly! To do so would be
ed by Syndicalists for the defence of our class and the taking and holding of to prepare his own downfall, certainly to endanger his own job, so he usual-
industry. ly promotes somebody who will not be a serious rival. So it goes on, right
up to the top -selection by mediocrity! The worker is usually able to recog-
! Taking Over nise a fellow worker's outstanding skill and acknowledge it. The workers
would have no social or economic motive in keeping a good worker down,
instead, it would be in their interest to nominate them to more responsible
The basis of trade union organisation, as well as its growth and practice, work.
make it unsuited, even dangerous to the taking and running of industry. Having said that, under the principle of social ownership, the miners
Trade unions are of three types, trade unions proper, that is craft unions, would control the mines and engineers the metal working factories, we are
bastard forms of 'industrial unions' and general mass unions. often asked: But who would run the hospitals and who would look after
Craft unions may have been justified in the days of handicraft production municipal services such as water supply? Of course hospitals would be run
when a craftsman produced, almost entirely alone, the commodity of his by the hospital workers, all of them, organised in the Health Workers'
trade. Today, however, by the development of technics and the subdivision Syndicate. Municipal services, such as water supply and street cleansing,
of labour many crafts and occupations are necessary to the production of would be the responsibility of the Municipal Workers' Syndicate. Similarly,
even a simple commodity. If we walk into an engineering factory, for education would be the responsibility of those who had spent their lives
instance, we find the workers already organised by the capitalist. The pat- studying and practicing the art of pedagogy. Of course, the workers of these
ternmakers work in harmony with the moulders who pass their work to the three syndicates would work in co-operation with the patients, house-
machinists. The machinists' work is dovetailed into that of the fitters. Maybe dwellers, scholars and parents respectively.
blacksmiths, plumbers, coppersmiths, joiners, sheet metal workers, boiler- Here is a system of industrial democracy, the only true democracy, not
makers and painters join in the production of this one commodity. Clerks, the choice of choosing Tweedledum or Tweedledee every five, eight or ten
timekeepers, inspectors and draughtsmen too, are necessary to industrial years and being controlled by him and his partners for the period between,
processes. but the control of one's own job and environment, the control of one's own
Yet while all may be under one roof, producing one type of commodity, life. The government of men by men gives way to the administration of
say locomotives, these workers may be 'organised' into forty unions. things.
Disorganised would he a more apt word. To ask a Syndicalist: do you As to distribution, the Syndicalist method of distribution is free; a system
believe in trade unionism? is like asking a man if he believes in the penny- of common ownership and Workers' Control must have a system of free and
farthing bicycle. common distribution to supplement it. That is, all the good things of life will
However, not all of our engineering workers will be members of craft be produced in plentiful supply and distributed by the distributive, municipal
unions, some will he members of an alleged industrial union, the and transport workers to whoever needs them, as much as they need them.
Amalgamated Engineering Union. The A. E. U. is not a true industrial union Just as now a person may borrow from the public library as many books as
for it is organised on the basis of craft not industry, though the craft is given she or he needs, so they will be allowed as much food as they can eat with-
a wider meaning than that of the accepted craft unions. out payment. Once one had to pay to cross bridges, enter parks and even
Thus the A. E. U. claims members among marine workers aboard ship, walk along roads, now we may do that freely. So in a Syndicalist society cin-
in the chemical industry and scores of other industries and for twenty years emas and theatres will be as free as museums or parks; railways, trams and
has had uneasy relations with the Miners' Federation over its attempts to postage will be as free of charge as roads and bridges are now.
organise coal-mining workers. In any case, the A. E. U. is not organised on Some will say that the greedy will eat too much if there is enough for all.
the basis of industry, but upon the basis of residence. That is, if you work in Well, water is probably the most precious of commodities, in use value that
East London and live in West London you will generally be organised, not is, but any one will give a thirsty stranger a glass of water - a pailful if he can
The Social General Strike - Page 8 Tom Brown - Page 5
reconquest of the gains made by the strikers. where you work, but where your bed is.
Syndicalists have always taught that it is not sufficient to practice the
stay-in strike for wage concessions, but that it is necessary to take and hold
the means of production as the Spanish Syndicalist workers did in 1936. By ! Redundant Unionism
holding the factories, mines, railways and all means of production and dis-
tribution the workers established the principle of Workers' Control of Besides the craft and pseudo-industrial unions some of the workers will
Industry. Each factory is run by the workers of that factory assembled in be organised in at least two 'general workers unions', such as the Transport
meeting and by the delegates elected by them, such delegates to be sub- and General or the Municipal and General. These are general unions that
ject to instant recall by the people who elected them should they not fulfil 'organise' anybody and everybody, engineers, miners, dockers, busmen,
their duties. Each factory or group of workshops is, in the same way, rep- shop assistants, clerks or farm labourers.
resented on the district council of its industry. Each district is represented Anybody and everybody in a vast, amorphous disorderly mass.
on the national council of the industry. All industries and services are fed- None of these three types of unionism meets the needs of labour in the
erated to a National Council of Labour integrating the whole social economy modem age. What is needed is a union that will organise the workers of one
of the country, distributing work and materials, cutting out waste, preparing factory in a single industrial union - craftsmen, labourers, clerks, storekeep-
statistics and assessing distribution. ers and draughts men - male and female - young and old. An industrial
By this means the social economy is integrated without centralisation, union not split into residential areas, but organised on the job, built up inside
that clumsy red-tape bound machine of the bureaucrat. By having the affairs of the factory.
of an industry controlled by the persons working in that industry, by district The organisational plan of revolutionary industrial unionism allows, of
affairs being controlled by the district and factory affairs by the workers in course, for complete organisational relations with other factories in the
that factory; by control from below instead of from above and by exercising industry. Industrial unions are organised in each industry and service, min-
the principle of election and recall, federalism, instead of centralism, ing, textiles, rail, education, building, health and so on. All industrial unions
becomes the principle of the new society. are federated into One Big Union. It is intended that the One Big Union shall
be a worldwide union of all workers with autonomous administrations in
! Do We Need Foremen? We have here a plan of union organisation that is capable of running suc-
cessfully a Social General Strike, of taking and holding industry and locking
Some say to us: 'But, you will still need foremen.' We do not agree. A out the employing class. Not for the General Strike alone must we organise
worker who knows their job does not need a foreman - a worker who does scientifically - the everyday needs of the workers cry aloud for an efficient
not know their job needs the advice and help of their mates. In any case a union movement to protect their wage packets. During these wage strug-
foreman is rarely appointed because of his superior knowledge or gift of gles and the smaller disputes and tussles which take place daily on the job,
leadership. Marriage, membership of certain clubs, drinking, fawning and the revolutionary unionists are all the time studying their jobs, the technics
bluff, all may open the door to promotion. and organisation of industry. When the occasion to strike occurs they are
However, if 'foremen' were necessary under Workers' Control, we do not thus fitted to take and hold the undertaking.
pretend to be able to forecast every detail of the new society, but this we do How would the Social General Strike method be applied? On the morn-
know, any 'foreman' or such person would be appointed by the workers and ing of the strike, the revolutionary unionists no longer obey the foremen and
be subject to their recall. managers, each person or gang takes over their own job.
Here we see a new principle at work - control from below. At present, Where liaison, delegates or committees are needed such have already
and in a State Socialist society, all promotion is from above downwards. We been organised.
see what the latter means at our work. If a foreman of mediocre ability is
about to promote some one from the bench to the chargehand's desk and
The Social General Strike - Page 6 Tom Brown - Page 7
! Who'll Pay the Wages? Syndicalist method is effective not only because of the strikers' seizure of
the commissariat for the strikers, it also uses the boycott against the
Who will pay the wages? No one. Money, the most powerful weapon of All domestic and personal servants who were members of their union
the capitalist, is discarded. The banknotes in his wallet are so much fluff. would leave their employment. Employers would be forced to cook, make
But we must eat to live. Very well, the canning factories, the docks and beds, do shopping and run their own errands. Postal workers would cease
warehouses are already in the hands of the workers. The flourmills and all communications with bourgeois districts. No buses, trains, trams or lor-
bake-houses, the dairies and packing houses are controlled by us. The ries would pass through these areas or touch buildings where blacklegs
dockers, railwaymen and lorry drivers deliver the food to the factories and were employed, housed or fed. No food or drink would be delivered to these
working class districts, the shop assistants and canteen workers supply it to places. The municipal workers would strike against sweeping their streets
the workers and their families. or emptying their dustbins. Gas, water and electricity would cease to flow
Distribution will not be according to the amount of money a person has to them. The weapons of starvation and deprivation which the capitalists
but according to their needs. Large families will receive more than small have so often used against the workers would be used against them.
families or single persons. Children will have first call on milk and sweets. It is obvious that faced with such a situation the employing class will offer
Delicacies such as poultry and grapes will go to the hospitals and invalids anything, a shorter working day, higher wages, holidays with pay, as the
instead of to wealthy overfed idlers. Farm labourers and small -holders French capitalist class did when confronted by the stay-in strikes of the
send food to the cities. Miners will continue to send coal to the surface, and workers of France in 1936. Anything to get back their control of industry.
the railwaymens' industrial union will deliver it to the factories, gasworks, The greatest mistake the French workers ever made was to hand back
power stations and distribution centres. Power station workers organised in to their employers the industries and services they held so successfully.
their syndicate will produce electricity and distribute it to the workers' hous- Once having taken control of industry, class-conscious industrially organised
es, factories and transport undertakings. Necessary communication among workers would continue to hold that industry, establishing the principles of
related industrial plants will be the responsibility of the telephone and other common ownership and workers' control of industry, abolishing capitalism
Post Office workers. and the wage system and distributing the good things of life, each accord-
ing to their needs.
Stores of clothing held by textile mills and shops will be distributed to the
! Stay In Strikes in Europe
most needy by the Textile and Distributive Syndicates. Hospitals and other The engineering workers of Italy successfully seized the factories in
health service workers will continue their work through their unions. Water 1920. During the occupation they were fed by the Peasants' Syndicates, co-
and other municipal services will be carried on by the Municipal Workers' operatives, distributive workers and railwaymen. After four weeks occupa-
Industrial Union. tion they returned the factories to the capitalists in return for a shorter work-
Newspaper compositors and machinists will refuse any longer to print the ing day, a wage increase and several minor concessions; within two years
lies and provocations of the employing class, as they refused on the eve of of the return of the factories, the workers of Italy were defeated by Fascism.
the 1926 General Strike in Britain. But instead of walking out of the print The workers of France in 1936 took possession of factories and many
shops they remain at work and turn the newspapers into organs of the other undertakings in one of the most successful strikes ever known.
General Strike. Unfortunately they returned them to the employing class in return for holi-
At a glance any worker can see the obvious advantage of such a strike days with pay, wage increases and a shorter working day.
weapon and its great superiority over the old strike method of starving for Almost at once, the Popular Front government, put in power just after the
three to six months. Superior because we eat instead of starving, but the strike by Communist, Socialist and Liberal votes, began the piece-meal